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Three candidates confirmed in RIBA presidency battle

Collage riba presidents 2018
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Arizona-based architect Phil Allsopp, Northern Ireland’s Alan Jones and London-based RIBA councillor Elsie Owusu have been confirmed as candidates to become the next RIBA president

The three have all pledged to reverse the marginalisation of the profession in their manifestos as they battle it out in the race to succeed Ben Derbyshire when he steps down as president in September 2019.

Sustainabilty champion Allsopp is currently the head of the RIBA’s USA chapter and former chief executive of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Last week he said that if elected, he would move back to the UK while keeping his house in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Jones previously ran for president in 2016, when he was up against Derbyshire and Andrew Salter, coming second. The architect and academic, who works at Queen’s University Belfast and is currently the RIBA’s vice president of education, spent seven years with Michael Hopkins & Partners and three years with David Morley Architects.

Owusu spent nearly a decade at Feilden + Mawson and is currently head of Elsie Owusu Architects. Last year she jointly co-ordinated the +25 Campaign – an initiative to significantly increase the number of black, Asian and minority-ethnic (BAME) architects on RIBA Council.

In late 2015 Owusu prompted the RIBA to launch an internal investigation after she claimed there was ‘institutionalised racism and sexism’ within 66 Portland Place.

Voting opens on 3 July and will remain open until 5pm on 7 August.

The manifestos

Elsie Owusu

Architects have become devalued and marginalised. We are no longer at the top table. Whether in innovation of design of much-needed affordable homes; responding to the Grenfell fire disaster; safeguarding EU colleagues or seizing opportunities in the Commonwealth, post-Brexit, we are ignored and sidelined. Many members tell me that they feel excluded and see the RIBA as lacklustre, wasteful and irrelevant. The RIBA must answer for that.

We need a professional body that will stand up for us, ensure our voices are heard, put architecture at the heart of design and planning, restoring recognition of the importance of architecture – once among the highest valued and best remunerated of British professions. As vice-chair of the London School of Architecture and trustee of the AA School, I’m concerned about huge student loan debts and the many mid-career architects bringing up young families on less than £40,000 per annum. My vision is of an RIBA that provides real benefits to its members:

  • effective government lobbying
  • promotes the businesses of small, medium and large practices
  • a vibrant programme of talks and lectures;
  • devolves power with nations and regions
  • a high-quality client advisory service;
  • puts its students and architects at the heart of the institute.

That is not the RIBA we have today, but it is a vision of the institute as it could be. To achieve this, we need real change – transparency, accountability and innovation in education and practice- real action and a RIBA that uses its powerful international brand and assets for the good of its members.


Alan Jones

Architect first. As president of the RIBA, I will:

Repurpose the RIBA for the 21st century

  • Champion architects as being the principal deliverers of architecture
  • Have a referendum on the Royal Charter, the future role of the RIBA and how we apply resources across our network of members
  • Align our ethical commitments to a broader global and societal cause
  • Ensure the RIBA protects all architects in the wake of Brexit

Redefine the industry narrative

  • Lobby government to establish our profession as independent and trusted to ensure the quality of the built environment
  • Redefine the profession as crucial to the wider success of business and society
  • Take a strong stance that rallies against onerous contracts and wasteful procurement
  • Champion small & medium scale practices to show client bodies the real value of their diversity and the talent and expertise they offer

Reframe the profession

  • Insist on equality of opportunity for everyone, into and upward through our profession
  • Encourage true fellowship, appreciating and celebrating the diversity of who we are and what we do, in a supportive environment focused on transparency and excellence
  • Insist that the RIBA supports, inspires and educates us, to lift us to higher standards of service and delivery – with the aim of higher fees, salaries and retention of all
  • Bring education and practice closer together to challenge, support & benefit each other

As president, I will work with the council, board and staff of the RIBA to deliver the above. 

Phil Allsopp

Our huge resource of ideas and innovations from the world’s best architecture schools and practices underscores my confidence in our profession’s ability to lead a new technology-enabled era in the development, financing, design and assembly of built environments. As president of the RIBA, I will champion this burgeoning evolution, ensuring that we continue to inspire new generations of clients, architects and kindred professionals to work inclusively and deliver solutions that improve wellbeing and foster greater economic potential. The RIBA’s role as a catalyst for this vital work is profound. It is now time to act.

In order for the RIBA to continue to lead the global profession of architecture, I regard its ongoing governance and operational reforms as essential and would take these further in the coming years, especially to grasp opportunities post-Brexit such as international reciprocity and accreditation. As president, I would oversee the RIBA’s full transition into a socially and economically diverse and inclusive global organisation that inspires and celebrates opportunity for everyone. But this isn’t enough. Success for the profession requires the RIBA to address the insidious erosion of the architect’s role. It can no longer be a bystander to pervasive real estate speculation that consistently fails to meet a growing range of unmet human needs, and to protect the biosphere on which we depend.

Illustrative of this situation, the 2016 UN Habitat 3 conference was attended by delegations from several prominent architectural institutions, yet the UN’s publication on reshaping living conditions and physical infrastructures makes no mention of the words ‘architect’ or ‘architecture’. It is therefore incumbent upon the profession to counter such glaring omissions by becoming a more active and sought-after player in the corridors of political and economic power wherein public perceptions of architects and architecture are shaped.

To do this, we must strengthen and expand the evidence basis for design decisions through research and in practice and become more fluent in the language of business, policy-making and science. I am confident about our collective ability, and that of the RIBA, to achieve this because of what I know about my professional colleagues and the opportunities before our profession to engage confidently with the economic engines of our global economy. This includes the $5.6 trillion being invested in Impact Funds to address the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Architecture – so often left out of economic, investment and legislative equations – clearly has a major role to play, as does the RIBA under my presidency, in driving the sustained impact everyone is seeking. 

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